Why I chose to self publish

I feel a little defensive – or that I at least need to explain. And some of me is cross about that, and that I have spent longer in awards entry covering letters and in interviews on why I’m self published than what the story is about.

But I wanted to tell you all, because it’s not only a choice, it’s a statement, the nearest that a pacifist gets to a battle cry.

Because I want to change things.

I want to bring Fair Trade to the book industry and subvert the current model.

Firstly – I self published because

I WANT TO TAKE PUBLISHING BACK INTO AUTHOR’S HANDS

And secondly, to show

WE DON’T NEED ANYONE’S PERMISSION TO PUBLISH

anymore than other businesses need permission to set up shop and start fulfilling their dreams.

Then there was those stats – two I put together:

8% of submissions to agents and publishers don’t get rejected and if you get through that tiny hole you keep 8% of the profits

So that means that not even JK Rowling is rolling in royalties as much as her gargantuan book success would suggest. (JK Rowling is someone I admire – for her journey and spirit as much as her writing).

And other famous names are needing other supporting work, or struggling.

And the less famous names aren’t doing so well at all. They probably have a day jobs or claim welfare.

And I felt: why is this accepted – that writers are poor?! And that someone else takes over 90% of the earnings for the work that they have by far put the most into?

I will write about shops in another post, but there are issues with the size of their slice – one that may mean I skip trying to sell that way.

But shops and libraries and wholesalers are stuffy about self pubbers.

We’re rejects. We’re not real, serious authors, they say. And even if you’re local, there’s no reason for us to take your book.

I heard an independent shop owner say that publically. Then he told his own story.

Analysis: he gave up on his own writing dream, and wants to squash other people’s.

He wants to pour out the tough love of failure and relinquishment that someone tipped over him. I really hope to see him in print one day. But I hope in the meantime, he stops crushing others who are already.

As I’ll share more later, sending away loyal customers who are also writers and small publishers is not how to continue their custom, and perhaps not their friends’ either. Most of us are in touch with others like us, and we share experiences.

So I’ve not yet allowed any shop or library the pleasure of turning me down. I am wondering if I shall. I’ll speak more about this and whether it’s worth getting an ISBN later.

So if you’re wondering – did I not get my fill of rejections when trying to get published?

Well, I got a few, but I never sent out my work that often. What I learned was that they can take ages, lose your work (Canongate – that was the first place I tried), and not feed back. So you don’t learn, and I also felt it was just a case of taste.

I’ve also had many affirming comments about my work, and I knew I could write, without exterior validation – that’s one of the themes and messages of the novel. So it’s often not a quality issue with agents and publishers, but a “dare I take a risk”. I’m learning that those risks are taken less, that feedback is minimal, and that agents and publishers no longer dig out diamonds. They want cut and sparking and ready to wear jewels – but you still have to fit their ring. After the honing and publishing I’d done, I didn’t want to do any more cutting for anyone’s else’s ring thank you.

Then there is the trust issue with agents and editors. I’d love to think that they all are sagacious and have my best interests at heart. But they don’t always know what’s best and they are often thinking of the market and what they can make money from.

So it means that the perceived market shapes what we can express and read.

And that is capitalism at its worst. And like much of capitalism, it’s based on fear, and conversely, seeing what caused the recessions – it’s risk adverse. It’s taking out all the adventure and putting money first.

It’s not just the publishers and agents – I think it’s ultimately the shops, who have shrunk their range with their bookseller’s duties and increasingly centralised.

So it isn’t just the self published who are having difficulty in being taken by shops (and libraries). It’s small and anything deemed specialist publishers, or even new titles from something established.

It’s also space based – shops and libraries don’t have infinite shelves, but the universe of virtual and home publishing does. Again, brings in capitalism’s old friend, competition, jostling for space and attention…something which self publishing can subvert into sharing space, not squeezing out those around you.

So might I, days on from my book becoming publically available, be enjoying greater sales and a sense of validity if I had found an agent?

For a dark moment, sitting in a conventional bookshop full of conventionally published titles, it was easy to feel “They’ve all got agents” – do I know that? And they’ve all got less than 10% of the cover price, and perhaps not a very big advance.

Perhaps they had to organise a launch themselves too. Marketing departments in publishing houses seem to be proportionally active to how well they predict you’ll do. When I learned that I as a new author was likely to get the marketing equivalent of the theatrical release of a foreign art house film, I felt all the more that I would stop sending out my work to agents. So it would be self fulfilling as to how well I did, and I’d be constricted by someone else’s judgment, and quickly given up on after a few tweets and half hearted leafleting shots at buyers, and then they’d move on.

If I was conventionally published, they’d have all the rights. They could decide when to take the book out of print and when to reduce to clear. They could decide the cover and put pressure on to change aspects which mattered to me, such as title, names, or cut important points. They could sell rights to a film company and I could easily lose my twin dream of writing the script – for my work was conceived for the screen, and is also adapted for the stage. And new authors are unlikely to stipulate that they must be involved in the lucrative movie. I’d be expected to sign away and stand back.

It may be like handing over your kids for someone else to bring up and then seeing them when they’d come of age, with hardly any visiting rights.

But as publisher, I can withhold rights and find someone that I want to work with, not for.

As it is, I feel I can say like a film director who also wrote, produced and perhaps starred:

A novel by Elspeth Rushbrook.

I designed the cover, using my own images. I typeset it all. I edited it. And it’s how I want it.

I find it liberating, not blamemaking that any faults are mine too, for I can change them; they are in my power, not someone else’s who imposed on me.

I don’t even know if I’d want an agent and publisher now. I enjoyed doing all this myself. I know I’ll want to do it for my other work.

It’s like being happy being single. If someone extra special appeared in your life, you may get married, but you’d have to be sure it was an enhancing partnership, and not a pairing for social expectation, or a dependency.

Really, I’m just moving with the wheel that’s already turning – the one that began with self publishing, then went to what we’d now call vanity – the author paid the publisher a fee – and now autonomous publishing is back. And I’m on top of the wheel, hoping that it is a revolution that works for all, wherever on the wheel you choose to ride.

 

 

 

 

 

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The day my life has been leading up to

Sorry, Middlemarch and Robin Hood, you’ve been queue jumped by the most significant day in my life.

Until now, I have hidden my surname from you, but because of what I am about to share with you, I realise I have to come out.

This day, I am a published author.

Last autumn, I asked people around the globe to help me get my wings.

I said it was time to fly.

Now I am flying.

It’s a day I’ve waited 25 years to see.

I feel that literally my life – which is somewhat longer than 25 years – has been leading towards this moment. The things I’ve done, people I’ve met; my journey of faith and personal development.

I’ve likened it to a birth – for it feels like a first born that I want to hold up like the cub in the Lion king, and also a marriage and a business launch all in one.

It is a day I want to bask in – and with the temperature – it’s hard to do little other than bask. So bask I shall.

Here is my book: http://www.parallel-spirals.webs.com

I shall have much more to say about writing – as well as the rest of the world, anon.

 

 

 

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1549 Kett’s Rebellion

During my Robin Hood phase, and unable to get to Sherwood Forest, I went to Nottinghamshire, and then to woods where other rebels gathered. Those woods have just been the backdrop to a play on the anniversary of that gathering, in Norwich.

And again, I’m led to decisive historic moments and battlers for justice. I haven’t forgotten Eliot’s Dorothea and Will – the more gentle kind of battlers – and I’ll pop up my article on their story shortly. I’m also returning to that famous forest so they’ll be more about Robin et al too.

But let me stay with Robert Kett – perhaps a name you don’t know, unlike Robin, or Boudicca, or Braveheart – our best known British freedom fighters, who’ll need little explanation, wherever you are reading this from. But Kett has much in common with all these. Perhaps he is Norfolk’s Robin. And let me link Kett, as the play did, with our current climate.

I’m not going to analyse the pantomime-like play, but its theme. The oft sung song reminded us that although the setting was nearly 500 years ago, it ‘could be any time’ – and ours. The mayor was doing a David Cameron impression. The mean ‘nobs’ all from the same school administered cuts to welfare and bullied plebs in a very familiar way.

*

The piece of news that I’m most thinking about from the last few days is the police shootings in America. I feel a little intrepid to comment, for it’s emotive and needs to be expressed well.

What I will say is that the  events at the Dallas protest turned the focus from the shootings by the police to the shootings of the police. I note that there was 1 officer for every 8 people at that demo, which is heavy. And that the demo which followed involved the police using smoke against the people.

The brutality of the killings – and sorry ‘fatal shootings’ won’t do – and the disproportion of the police’s reaction to the situations – over motor offences! –  has made me livid. I join those (isn’t that the whole world?) calling for justice and the curtailing of armed police and this heavy, ugly way of dealing with the public. A public who pay for the services of those who should be keeping us safe – but instead are unjust instruments of the establishment, and from whom we can be in danger.

I think many of us must feel that our growing resentment for the police, wherever we are, has been augmented by these shocking not even lone incidents.

I abhor that black people were the victims of these killings. It wasn’t hard to learn the names of the most recent ones – Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. But I noted that the day before, two more American young men were killed by the police, yet they are less talked about – I struggled to find their names. These both were from Latino heritage. It is significant that they too aren’t white – but also that the African Americans garnered the greatest attention.

Surely ‘Black Lives Matter’ should be ALL lives matter? I hope that’s a given.

There’s also a lesser known “Brown Lives Matter” movement.

I felt a huge de ja vu last night at the play, watching the king’s forces rush to stop the rebels in Norwich, who were slaughtered in battle or executed. Like the events of recent days, the aggrieved side, however we might understand their aggrievement, did things to their aggressors which I couldn’t condone.

But I did note that Kett’s army took England’s second city for a time. I know Bristol and York will want to squeal at this point ‘We were England’s second city!’ Can’t we share that title? But isn’t the point not a petty division (watch for those) but the empowering thought that people can hold a major city from the establishment.

Did the people of Norwich in 1549 feel any safer with the mob at the helm; was that their definition of democracy?

When I look at all those iconic historic symbols of independence, there’s a sadness that their effects were not only curtailed, but that were are still facing those issues, centuries later.

But did they fail? Should we give up trying to change the fact that, as the chorus sung last night “the many serve the few” and that the rich and powerful’s minority interest continue to crush everyone else?

No and no I do not. I do take hope from the fact that these names of freedom fighters are remembered and commemorated. We’re not cheering the mayors and earls who routed Kett’s group, we remember him.

Last night, we lit a beacon on a hill overlooking the city to not only remember the 3000 killed and hundreds hung in Kett’s rebellion, but all those who have struggled against oppression and still do – and feel under it. It was an exciting moment, to see the flames sweep in way I’ve never seen fire do before, to join with cheers and a banner.

Although not mentioned, we were asking and committing to the kind of world that Robin Hood, Boudicca, Braveheart and Robert Kett stood for coming into being. We are wanting a world which is against austerity, against unfair private ownership, and where the brutality of police and other law enforcers (what a phrase!) and the prejudice behind these recent incidents is history. We wish for justice and for reform – the sort that Will Ladislaw of Middlemarch wanted, the peaceful kind.

There was irony that I realised that no-one other than those at the play could see the beacon, despite its prominent position. Even knowing where to look, as I left Kett’s Heights I could just make out a tiny orange glow between trees.

It was also ironic that given this was a play about power to the people, the city council had to give permission for the beacon to be lit. A council that has many failings – lack of accountability and support to the vulnerable and providing basic reliable services; making heavy licensing laws which involve police in civil liberty abuses – but which also hung its flag at half mast for the recent homophobic shootings in Orlando.

Robert Kett, like Robin of Locksley, was one of the rich who instead of squashing the poor rebelling at his gate, joined and led them. In the play, the Mayor changed sides and opinions.

Out of the many warrior princes and princesses I admire, there is one who comes to mind who insisted on never killing, never using unreasonable force, and who stopped wars with love. She saw that forgiveness and change were more powerful than routing enemies. She saw too that the most powerful way to create change was through mind changing – and I add, heart changing.

I refer to my last post and that wonderful quote of Caroline Lucas, ‘where hope is powerful than hate’ – even when we feel we have a just cause; and that healing and uniting communities is more important than demarcation of difference, even self defining; brothers (and sisters) before otherness.

And as Kett’s county’s police motto says – we all need to feel our police’s priority is us.

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EU Exodus: “Hope is more powerful than hate”

It’s no accident that I’ve been exploring stories about times of change in British history on the eve of the referendum on Britain’s remaining in the European Union.

My initial response to the news that the vote to leave came top was not a pleased one.

I made my own mind up about why I wanted to stay, eschewing the manipulative fear and fiscal based arguments.

Economy is not the most important factor for me. Its prioritisation is behind much of what is wrong in our world. But unlike most on the left, I don’t see a single nationalised system as the way to run a country instead. I will put forward my alternative another time.

I voted to stay to stop our own government being its highest authority. I want to ensure that the articles of the Europeans Human rights act remain in force here. I want there to be somewhere to appeal to about our flawed court system. I want a decision for good to affect a continent – and one that is likely to be noticed by other countries too. I also want to enjoy a close and free relationship with other nations.

The Socialist Worker spoke in favour of leaving, but with a different voice to the often xenophobic and naïve and uncouth cheer on the extreme right. I find the SW a naïve and emotive voice, but it is sometimes interesting to read. It balanced the disappointment with the vote’s outcome of those who ought to be part of its family, but who the socialists often shun.

The Social Worker points out what Europe has done wrong and claims that this leave vote gives us a chance for change. The Greens point out what Europe has done right and what might be achieved with its reform.

I read some papers outside of my country to see what they said about today’s news. I’d enjoyed the German Der Spiegel before (eg re the Prism revelations) but today, this supposed quality paper from a fellow European country felt gloomy. It spoke of nothing that either the Socialists or the Greens did, but about economy and how the pound has fallen, how we’re distant and shrinking…

The title of article was good –  “Fear and Loathing in Britain” – yes those emotions are behind much of the campaign and the voting ethos – and the reaction to the vote. But I do commend Caroline Lucas, Britain’s Green MP, for saying she wants a country “where hope is always more powerful than hate” – a speech that Will Ladislaw would have commended. The rest of her article was copied by the other Greens speaking today, but their wish for uniting division and their avowal that the rights the EU has given us must be protected is commendable.

I am angry that the Stop The War Coalition convoy of aid to Calais was largely prevented last weekend, on grounds of “state of emergency”, “terrorism” and “football hooliganism”. I find it disgusting that support for the crisis we’ve helped create is something that authorities want to resist. I do not want yesterday’s vote to support that mentality.

The vote result doesn’t have to mean immediate, or any action, and I believe what it means should be thought about, not pressured or held to, for it was ‘won’ by a small margin and the 4 million name signature petition which I signed shows how strong feeling is that this referendum does not reflect the people’s views. How did this vote come about – what forces were whipping it up? What does that simply yea or nay represent? Many see that general dissatisfaction is being shown, and that the oldest and currently leading party is in disequilibrium, which could open a way for a new balance.

As I continue my reviews of my latest reading and watching, I’ll be considering those decisive moments of votes that they represent in the light of this one.

This isn’t just a matter for Britain or Europe only. Distinctness is not an excuse for division, nor division a cause for divorce, detesting, damnation and despotism.

We need something very different, but I’ve not seen anyone offer it yet. As Will Ladislaw says, we want peaceful reform not extremism, for long held barriers to be eroded, and for a system that does not simply benefit the few and puts welfare before wealth.

And if you don’t know who Will Ladislaw is, read my next but one article to find out.

You may also want to read my earlier article – No axes, no strikes, listen to Hegel – which is relevant to today’s news.

 

 

 

 

 

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Middlemarch and Sherwood

What links a Lincoln green clad arrow pinger, a mine magnate’s niece who’s chased by horses and her teacher, and a bonnet wearing philanthropic clergyman’s wife?

If you’ve read the blurb to my novel, you’ll know that I like making unlikely comparisons. If you’ve read the rest of this blog, you will see more of them.

The answer to the first question is firstly geography – for they are all located in the East Midlands; secondly, literature and film; – and lastly – well off people fighting to support the cause of the poor.

Thus Sherwood and Eastwood and Middlemarch are not so far apart.

I wrote my thoughts on Eastwood’s famous son – and the escapades of Ursula Brangwen – on Good Reads.

The rest of this concentrates on Sherwood – whose forest’s inhabitants need no introduction – and the fictitious manufacturing town invented by George Eliot, filmed in Stamford.

I like to read and watch and visit in themes, so if you want to know what my days out to Nottinghamshire and Stamford (and elsewhere in the East Midlands) involved – read them here.

Robin Hood and Dorothea Brooke are further linked by the fact that they are in some ways superhuman archetypes. Robin is borderline superhero, and in some versions (such as 1980s TV series Robin of Sherwood) he has a higher calling from a deity, the son of a god, the fulfilment of a long promised title: he is, as the theme song goes, The Hooded Man. (Does anyone else find the otherwise excellent Clannad’s keyboards tinny and dated?). Dorothea – ‘of the gods’ – is likened to not only famous mystic and theologian Theresa of Avila, but saints, angels and the Virgin Mary. (I ruefully acknowledge that Schmoop pointed that out to me).

Robin too has a special Mary in his all male band of called followers, who live rough and itinerant and give, in their way, good news to the poor and freedom for the prisoners and the oppressed… strange how closely Robin’s mission matches Isaiah 61, Jesus’ own self confessed mission statement. Robin descends from the higher echelons to save the people.

Dorothea also cares about the poor, about justice – and mercy – letting sheep stealers off fatal sentences, providing better homes for tenants, doing good with her money, such as supporting overlooked but genuine clergy and would be world changing doctors.

Both though are truly human as well as divine.

There is much in common with 1195 – the years leading to Magna Carter, 1832 – the Reform Bill – and now. All these are the cusp of a sea change  against long oppression and imbalance. Hence these stories keep coming round again. The 2006 BBC Robin Hood (with Jonas Armstrong) made explicit parallels to the middle eastern wars funded at the expense of the poor and where fair justice was dispensed with, and that there was no need to travel to Arab countries to see evil – “the real cancer is right here”.

Hence my satisfaction that seemingly disparate reading and watching material has a common thread.

I’ll talk more about Middlemarch in my next piece, but I wanted to round up by a final parallel which is more than pedantry.

It’s about accents in the TV versions.

In his otherwise excellent site Bold Outlaw, Allen W. Wright says that Kevin Costner’s infamously poor/non English accent in the 1994 Prince of Thieves film doesn’t matter, because we don’t know how people talked in Robin Hood’s day, and some say that the modern American accent is more likely than today’s English one.

As a North American, he would say that.

As an English person, I feel that Americans not adopting the accent of the characters they play is not only cultural laziness but symptomatic of America becoming a synecdoche for all the English speaking western world. If actors of other nationalities play an American part, they change their voice – but not in reverse. Many dramas exported to America are remade, or redubbed.

Only one Robin Hood so far has used the right accent for Robin, going by what we today recognise as Nottinghamshire, and that again is the 2006 BBC series with Richard Armitage.

All the others do what Middlemarch also did – as well as so many films. The rich have a British gittish queen’s English accent, and the serfs and villagers and tradesfolk have the general lazy west country bumpkin voice that I have moaned about so many times. It’s not even true of the West Country! It’s not how people in the Midlands speak. And that accent serves to delineate class via accent and associate the country one with being not only rustic but stupid, poor, ill educated, lower, subordinate.

Thus class – a distinction and divide that Robin and Dorothea are working to erase – is demarcated for yet another era, and that shorthand is perpetuated and spread across not only Britain but all the countries who watch our dramas.

I shall be back with more about Middlemarch (or truly, Lowick and Tipton) shortly.

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Going Off Austen

For quarter of a century, Pride and Prejudice has been my favourite book, and I have loved rewatching the BBC drama series over 15 years. So why am I considering taking it off my shelf?

I had previously believed it a truth universally acknowledged that anyone of literary taste admired Jane Austen. Like Jennifer Ehle, I first read Pride and Prejudice aged c12, and soon counted it my joint favourite work of fiction. So going off her now is like parting with a best friend of 24 years.

I had seen screen adaptations of nearly all Austen’s work. I started the novels of a few, but soon gave up on all but one. I guessed who Emma married on page 1, turned to the end to see if I was right, and decided I couldn’t be bothered with the middle. The one novel I loved is Pride and Prejudice, which I could reread effortlessly, and be made to laugh out loud.

I have just read one of those dreadful spin off sequels after which I decided to read the original book and watch the 1995 TV version. I am shocked and saddened at my own responses.

In this week’s re-reading, I found the writing to often be laborious; and Lizzie’s speeches to be as ponderous as Mary’s. I wonder about Mary being downplayed in the novel and on the screen, for she seems the only character bent on improving her mind and skill, yet she is often given a little role; whatever offering she does have is ridiculed. Lizzie is a snob, saying that pride is allowed where real superiority of mind exists. Yet no-one in Austen’s creation has it; for no-one is intellectual or learned, no-one speaks of anything lofty or world changing. Lizzie refuses to discuss books at a ball. She nor Darcy have any talents, and he can’t even play the piano. They do nothing to improve society; they do not ponder spiritual or philosophical matters. The upper classes are excessively dull and flat; for their conversation is about balls and partners, clothes and weather.

Jane Austen is observing a particularly narrow world and it again surprises me that her novels are so widely loved by those so outside of her class, and in such a different era. I call even her heroines and heroes vapid, shallow, judgmental. I cannot understand how Darcy is such a fantasy. I now think of Darcy as more akin to Rochester (my other favourite book that I left behind ten years ago) – a smouldering, uncontrolled passion; who is arrogant, pompous, and used to being obeyed, and whose supposedly wonderful act (to Wickham and Lydia) is more about throwing money and power and tidying loose ends then any act of benevolence. Matthew MacFadyen in the 2005 film seemed a kinder Darcy than any other.

For some years, my focus has been on Eliza rather than Darcy. As writer Andrew Davies says, we are all in love in Elizabeth, and I think that is true – whether we look at her as a love interest, friend, or role model. Eliza is not impressive on the page to me now, but she does come alive on the screen. Lizzie always is sparkling and never more so than when played by Jennifer Ehle. It is her almost alone that makes that famous adaptation shine.

The 1995 BBC adaptation felt an important one for me, not just for television or the life of the novel. I wonder if it is comparable to the 1967 Forsyte Saga, where roads were hushed as a large part of the nation watched. I recall looking forward to Sunday evenings that autumn, fighting for the TV from housemates, and even – to one of their shock – missing evening church to see it. My love for it united me with several new but quite disparate friends, as other adaptations have, and I have enjoyed seeing it many times since.

I don’t recall thinking that the 6 part television series was perfect, for it has always seemed theatrically camp. I am no longer of the opinion that books should never have changes or cuts when adapted; I am a writer and adapter myself. I had considered P and P to be hard to condense as Austen does not waste, but I found her dialogue often pompous and not all of her scenes are needed. I felt less cross with the atmospheric 2005 version having to cut down to feature length and wondered at how the story could have been padded out in 1995 to nearly six hours.

Andrew Davies says in the BBC companion book that he’s a ‘show don’t tell’ writer – a tired little phrase in the world of screenplays. But he is not, as there are several scenes I felt unnecessary; and he had talking – clunky dialogue he had added – where none was required. The first few minutes are all wasted as they are things we see again. He repeats the relationship between the houses and the sisters. All Darcy and Bingley needed do on that first scene was to arrive at Netherfield and nod. It is spoilt by showing us what they look like before the Meryton Ball.

Davies has an obsession with not only the corporeal qualities of the characters, but in sexual ones. Every vivacity to him comes down to a very physical sexual desire or repression of one, which is tedious. He began a later Austen TV drama with a sex scene which never made sense; and he is recorded as saying that he wanted to do Tipping the Velvet because it’s ‘filthy’ and wanted to put a kinky lesbian scene on the screen. This latter comment caused more rumpus than the five years of build up to the allegedly bodice ripping Pride and Prejudice, making a touching coming of age story into a deviant romp for dirty old men and tabloids. I question whether any of these are men’s stories – especially not Sarah Water’s same sex romance; but Austen too seems to me the province of women.

I had long wondered at how a book could be popular in our time when the most dramatic plot turn involves a morality that is long past. Austen seems to join Lizzie and Darcy in being shocked by Lydia’s elopement and validating the wider strictures and censure that her behaviour brings. I felt the same of Wives and Daughters, when Cynthia and Molly’s character are put in danger by being seen alone with a man. How can Austen be seen as feminist when her females are always getting sick, nervous, and needing smelling salts over the slightest problem, and whose delicate virtue is tacitly assented to, never challenged?

I am now left in a place of dis-ease, with this old friend ebbing. For I know that my disappointment and criticisms of the adaptations now come down to the fact that I no longer believe in their source material. I am particularly critical of the portrayal of Lydia and Wickham. The BBC’s Pride and Prejudice is watchable due to Jennifer Ehle and Julia Sawalha’s being Lydia, though she is too old for the role and too exaggerated to compensate. It is amazing that the woman who plays sensible, principled Dorcas Lane was once also one of literature’s most irresponsible, thoughtful females.

My overall view is that this supposed drama has a silliness attributed to the younger sisters Bennet.

The Austen adaptation I now enjoy most is the most controversial, and allegedly least like the book, where a Canadian lesbian takes on the English subject and shows us poverty as well as aristocracy, that takes on the slave trade, and allows the shock of adultery into a modernised version, entwined with Austen’s biography, shatters the ideas of bland respectability and gives Mansfield Park a power and point that no other has.

 

Published originally on Bookstove and an altered version in Jane Austen’s Regency World Nov/Dec 2010. Some changes have been made – eg I have now familiar with Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility.

 

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Wives and Daughters – Gaskell’s and Austen’s

Cynthia is like Zippy from British children’s cult TV show Rainbow – the naughty one is definitely the most lovable

Wives and Daughters is more akin to being penned by the friend of Jane Austen than Charlotte Bronte. It is without the gothic supernatural brooding harshness of the Bronte’s books. Like Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell has an ironic, satirical, witty eye for her society – largely that of the various ranks gentlefolk and aristocracy. It is surprising that Gaskell wrote Wives and Daughters and North and South which, with its political northern setting and convention defying, makes it clear to see why Gaskell and Charlotte were kindred spirits. Bronte is quoted to have disliked Austen’s work, yet her biographer and friend has written something very much of its ilk.

The plight of the heirless widow – a central theme in Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility – is there in Wives and Daughters, as is that of a gentleman loving a woman of a lesser family. Reputations and honour are key to both Austen and Wives and Daughters; a lady’s public opinion is so easily made into a scandal, and as such forms a major part of the dramatic narrative.

Like Pride and Prejudice, there is a strong father-daughter affection in contrast to a foolish mother and wayward sister (the last is also found in Sense and Sensibility). The heroine of Wives and Daughters, Molly, is a high moraled, near perfect woman who suppresses her own love so not to betray the confidence of another’s long term secret engagement. In that way, she is much like Elinor from Sense and Sensibility. Despite both Molly and Elinor being the heroines, their wayward sisters are more interesting.

Yet in Pride and Prejudice, the placid good sister is not the heroine. The real excesses are given to Lydia, but Elizabeth has the mixture of passion and decorum which makes her so popular with readers. She too falls for the villainous man – Wickham – who is instrumental in the near ruin of her sister; but Austen’s other heroines (and Molly) fall for the good, kind, brotherly character (Mr Knightly in Emma, Edmund in Mansfield Park; Edward in Sense and Sensibility).

Eliza Bennett has not only family connections but a passionate dislike to overcome  in her romance. In Wives and Daughters, the ultimate match between Roger and Molly is merely two boringly good people finding each other at last. Roger and Molly are not the stuff of literary fantasy like Elizabeth and Darcy (or Jane Eyre and Rochester). More flawed than Eliza Bennett, Cynthia Kirkpatrick has our understanding and sympathy.

One of my favourite things about Wives and Daughters is that it’s about dysfunctional families – a diachronic phenomenon – with real, rounded, flawed yet lovable characters. Mrs Gibson continues that pantomime dame-like quality found in adaptations of Austen, but she has more rationale than Austen’s dames. She is a widow whose poverty forces her into work. She struggles with being a single working mother (again, a suitably modern theme) and put respectability before all else. So she hastily marries a handsome widower who is strict on professional secrets but relaxed on how his household should be run, whereas she is the reverse. The new Mrs Gibson finds her daughter being contrasted with her step child – homely, obedient stay-at-home Molly and the beautiful, accomplished, travelled, secretive Cynthia. Mrs Gibson realises her own neglect to her daughter through the close relationship that her new husband enjoys with Molly.

I am not sure how we are meant to view Molly’s father: as she does, almost perfect? My own view is that he is far from it. Dr Gibson’s work comes before family; although this may be his method for compensating for the loss of his first wife, it comes between him and his new wife immediately. He has a tendency to be severe on the women in his life. He is overprotective, surly to his daughter’s suitors, and often chauvinistic and unreasonable – even unkind – and needs to learn to let go. Twice, he reveals a temper problem.

Molly’s misery is brought on herself because her so called virtue of keeping her feelings for Roger secret were her choice to repress. As Cynthia says several times that her love for Molly is superlative, I believe Cynthia would have given Roger up if she had realised the feelings of her friend for him.

Cynthia is as good for Molly as the reverse. Cynthia’s opening speech is that she is not a very good person. But there are several occasions when despite what she believes and others reinforce, she shows that she has many qualities. Molly rushes to meet Cynthia for the fist time, but it is Cynthia who simply hugs her new sister and insists on ceasing the polite civilities to acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation. Unlike her mother, Cynthia comforts Molly at the death of Mrs Hamley, simply holding her friend’s hand. Cynthia speaks her mind to her mother when her mother has behaved dreadfully. She breaks off the engagement to Roger of her own volition when she feels it is no longer fair to him to remain so. She immediately tells Mr Cox that she’s already engaged when he proposes. Dr Gibson calls her callous but it is the men falling for her and proposing on so little an acquaintance or encouragement which led to that pain and embarrassment – as much for Cynthia as for the rejected suitor. As she says, her manner is one which men fall for, whether she intends to encourage them or not. To know Cynthia is to love her. Molly tells father she does, although confesses she doesn’t understand her.

It is Cynthia and Molly’s relationship which is central to the story, not the romances. Cynthia frequently proclaims that she has not the gift of loving as some people, and that she has never fallen head over heels for anyone. But she often states her affection for Molly – although that is not in love feeling, she qualifies, although it is the nearest we see to passion in the story – the physical contact, the murmurings of love, the rush to return to Molly’s sickbed and the love that restores her. Could Cynthia’s lack of enthusiasm for men be because she prefers women? Someone who is independent, strong willed, flirtatious and loves to be adored seems unlikely to be incapable of passion. Can someone who excites such wild admiration in others be incapable of feeling the same for anyone else?

If I had finished off Gaskell’s book, it would have not been hurriedly tied up as in the Andrew Davies 1999 television script; nor letting the important friendship tail off after Cynthia’s hasty marriage to an attorney whom we know nothing about. The Cornhill Editor’s postscript presumes that we know that Roger and Molly will marry, and that this is the reader’s chief interest. This editor did not anticipate me!

I had thought that the novel ends on a cliffhanger, but now I am content without further chapters. Roger is not to allowed to speak to Molly as she is in quarantine; he is about to go to dangerous Africa, and has not yet declared his love for Molly. Roger tells Molly’s father than if he does not come back alive to propose that his ghost will haunt Dr Gibson. The 1999 TV adaptation has Molly chase the coach (Gaskell has her content with her friend’s wave) and Roger disembark it. But what if he wrote to her from Africa, and they exchange their love by letter – but it is the last that Roger sends? What if that ghost has cause to haunt? And what if Molly goes to Cynthia for comfort…? Perhaps this is a tale of how overprotection and high morals and sacrifice lead to misery.

Worse is that the TV series misses out Cynthia’s restoration by rushing home to seriously ill Molly which helps Molly recover, and earning the sparing praise of her stepfather.

Cynthia says: ‘I am not good, but I may be the heroine of this story yet’.

It is my intention to make her so.

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Eddie the Eagle

“I think a little bit of wee just came out!”

 

I nearly made that quote from the new film my title. Thus spake Eddie as he experiences the rush of ski jumping, learning to let go and soar for the first time.

 

I am not sure that I can name another olympian, especially not from thirty years ago. But a non sport follower recalls this rather unconventional skier, whose journey to Calgary in 1988 is the subject of a new film starring Hugh Jackman as his somewhat fictional trainer and Taron Egerton as Eddie himself.

 

The film differs from the real Michael Edwards’ life – the Eddie came as a nickname from his surname and his real family call him by his real forename.

 

Eddie was more reckless as a child, as his autobiography recounts; the film implies he was weak and sickly, but his frequent hospital visits were due to stunts. He also was good at skiing, and other sports – something that is downplayed by press and script.

 

His father was not boorish and opposed to Eddie’s ambitions as in this often clichéd and formulaic film. His on screen father only is proud of Eddie when he has made an achievement and others are supporting him – but his mother stood by him and encouraged him whilst he was unknown and ridiculed. She’d have been proud whatever had happened on the slopes. Such a father would have risked his son.

 

Eddie’s siblings are stripped away, and so is his Cheltenham roots. Hoorah, they have the accent right in Eddie, but his regency terraced home in Gloucestershire’s spa town became a generic street that looked more like over exposed London, and his father doesn’t share his accent.

 

The baddies – the naked hairless Scandinavian team – are too bad; the fellow Brits the usual faces in such films, stereotypes also abounding there too – and then the finale is the appearance of an American veteran coach.

 

What angered me was how Eddie is still reported – that he was an embarrassment to the Olympics. I suppose he was – because he took the Olympic ethos back to its roots, subverted all the values associated with the games, and stole the attention from those who considered themselves more worthy.

 

No, he didn’t have the right outfit, looks or body shape, accent or school. Yes, he started far later than most competitors and came to a high standard in under 2 years. He came without a ski jump team, when sport is all about teams – sometimes in the wrong sense. In an event that’s got ridiculously serious, he had fun, and he made people laugh. When medals had become everything, he was happy to come last.

He wasn’t rich, but his family got into debt to stop money being the intended obstacle.

 

Eddie The Eagle reminds us that the inaugural ethos of the Olympics was about taking part, not winning; and that the struggle, not the triumph, was what mattered. We rally for him in the film as much as the public did for the real Eddie. We see his courage to return to the ski lift when no-one around him thinks he is capable of the jump, let alone being worthy to represent his country.

 

For the olympics is about prestige, gaining sponsors who in turn share in values such as achievement and excellence – boring buzzwords which the film rightly lampoons. It relates to my earlier post about the Counting Thief, who would see points and measurements, medals and ranking as all that matters. The young champion “Flying Fin” rightly sees a connection between Eddie and himself, despite the fact that their names are likely to be at opposite ends of the results list. The Fin’s words actually were negative, ready to beat himself up and by extension, Eddie too, for not having given their own highest effort, whatever the outcome. Flying Fin could break records and be given a gold trophy, but he might still feel dissatisfied. But what was special about his brief speech to Eddie is that he recognised here was someone else who did this because it was a spirit level passion.

 

The ranking and prizes didn’t matter to either, in a good sense.

 

Eddie was right to say that the Olympics is meant to be an open competition. I hoped to learn that he had returned for other olympics, but they changed the rules and so he was debarred, and they also tried to ensure that no-one like him could follow.

 

Now the seriousness is so high that competitors have to undergo intrusive tests, lest they have an unfair advantage. People can’t accept their natural bodies, they must mould (no fat or hair) them and forever push themselves, always having to beat last time – just like company profits.

 

This film pulls us back to the original Olympian ideals, to the kind of hero we really admire – and whether or not his flapping arms amuse you, his spirit must warm yours.

 

I hope that the Eagle again soars, in whatever way he wishes to, and that his flight encourages others to take off, in whatever their dreams may be.

 

[The use of capital O or not for Olympics is deliberate]

 

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Hail, Caesar – he is Risen

 

This week I saw two new films, each featuring a Fiennes brother, about a Roman tribune (senior soldier) who encounters Jesus at the end of his life.

 

I bet I’m one of few to have seen both, because Risen, starring Joseph Fiennes, hardly got any theatrical release. In my city, only one cinema had it, for one week, twice a day at awkward times, pulling it before the Easter weekend it is all about. Thus its low audience numbers were self fulfilled. And it’s gone before, like the disciples at the tomb, I could go and tell anyone else to come and see it.

 

I am also one of the few drawing a comparison between these films, because the subtitle of the film within film, Hail Caesar, is not mentioned in any cinema brochure I’ve read. Along with other inaccuracies, it is called “a sword and sandal” epic. But there’s no sword fights and no George Clooney is not Caesar, but encountering a more paradoxical alien leader. There’s a scene where the religious leaders whom the studio is trying to placate discuss the nature of the incarnation (interesting for Jewish film makers), a beautiful closing speech at the foot of the cross (for which scene the crucified actors received “hardship pay”) and confusingly, a section featuring Saul of Tarsus with a title card “Divine Intervention to Be Inserted”.

 

Risen also consulted with Christians to avoid upsets, and likewise, found them happy – though I was not at the depiction of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. This is not in the Bible and even Catholics – who pretended she was – have officially un-tarted her now. Hasn’t the writers heard of even the Di Vinci Code and who Mary is believed to be by many? She’s Jesus’ no 2, covered up by Peter ‘I want the Keys just for Me’ and friends.

 

Both films had powerful and profound moments, but the tones were very different. Hail Caesar was often funny, though I mainly just laughed at the two points I described above; the studio debacles often did little for me. I am not a proponent of the multiple storyline and so I wished we spent more time with Rome and Jerusalem, and less (or none) in aquariums, deserts, drawing rooms and bars filled with sailors who sang about the lack of dames at sea, by by their antics (some dance moves were suggestive of a number just before 70) they were not sorry. Not all the characters really fitted together, and I found were by some rather conspicuous sewing.

 

Risen had no humour and was for the first part, often brutal, opening as a high budget and adrenaline thriller, just incase you thought this was for church halls. I think it is a film for church halls, though not for families or sensitive people of any age. The usually doe eyed, gentle and sensitive Joseph Fiennes is harsh and interrogative and even murderous. I found it hard to watch him being so unjust and bullying. He is one of a few well known actors in the film, such as Peter Firth from Spooks as Pilate, who is driving Joseph as Tribune Clavius to find Jesus’ missing body because Pilate fears the next tier of the chain – his emperor.

 

The brutality in the Coen’s film – some of which was verbal threat – was by the main person, a studio producer and fixer of any legal and publicity embarrassments. I hated Eddie Mannix for hitting Baird (that’s Clooney) and silencing his new communist sympathies. Eddie becomes the old kind of tribune and God – telling people what to do, think, and what they can know, judging by narrow standards, being non-negotiable and using perceived virtue to guide those in his care; and of course, money.

 

Both tribunes alter at the experience of Jesus, yet Joseph’s conversion feels more like a Christian Union mission film. I am trying to work out why. Did I feel the disciples too spacey and squeaky good? Was I angry that they never fought back? Was it the snippets of their sermons on the beach? But – whatever your beliefs – in the story, wouldn’t frightened, crushed followers feel exonerated and empowered and impervious to threat if they thought their leader was truly alive again? And their responses to Clavius do draw him in, perhaps more than more assertive reactions might.

 

The Coen brothers leave us, as so many Jesus films and plays, with him on the cross – yet for George’s tribune, even then, it is enough to change him. The makers of Risen (and Waterworld) let us see Jesus to the end of his earthly life (I was going to say, off the premises), but the ascension is more of a disappearance into the sunset – ET had a more memorable and convincing take off. They obviously didn’t have the budget to show us what the guards at the tomb saw either – shame as modern film is wonderful for bringing such stories to us visually.

 

The Coen’s Jesus is a back of a rather strawberry blond head and a pair of feet on a maximum comfort cross. Risen features Cliff Curtis – is this the first Maori Christ? – whose face has have the expected unnerving quality, but his less conventional Messiah looks and Tears For Fears hairstyle also slightly beguile and unsettle. However, he behaved like we like to think of Jesus – in the imaginary last miracle where he truly saw and loved the person he healed.

 

What was hardest for me was reconciling the kind of Jesus we want to believe in – like this – to the one who actually appears to be in the gospel. I’ve been at a study group where we heard that one writer thinks that Jesus snorts in fury at his healees; a Jesus whose first line in John’s gospel is a snap at would-be followers; a Jesus who is incredibly rude to that Gentile lady seeking healing for her son… Commentators let him off by saying, he must have meant…ah, but really he knew… Is this disciples and early fathers scribbling in, or…

 

It’s a search I continue. Meanwhile, I found these films as worthwhile as any church service and yet not exclusive of those not seeking a spiritual message this Easter.

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Aberdon’t – Marischal Square

This is to stop that awful development in Aberdeen going ahead.

The two buildings that strike most about Aberdeen are Provost Skene’s House and Marischal College.

The first is a free museum in a former mayoral residence (provost in Scotland) which is SHUT to allow this monstrous development round it, even though it’s not touched by it. Skene’s House is one of the best museums of its kind in the country, with plastered and painted ceilings and recreated rooms of different periods.

When I last came to Aberdeen, I was gutted that this turreted stone building was obscured by a dreadful office block which the Queen had to open. I hoped she’d soon be pushing the first swing of the wrecking ball.

The ball has done its work, but instead, something equally as grievous is planned in its place.

Opposite is the second largest granite edifice in the world, the most arresting landmark in Scotland’s third city, a sort of Houses of Parliament rival. It went from being the University’s second college to being leased to the city council – pictures of the interior changes have caused many squawks! There is a by appointment collection within that used to be a free museum.

I’d like to emphasise that I’m a visitor, not a local – we care too about Aberdeen and these special buildings.

The development is just what everyone else is getting – Edinburgh, Leeds, Cambridge… the dumpy new 1960s boxes, which will equally be regretted immediately and get worse with each decade.

The developer’s website is dreadful. It uses not even very buzzy buzz words. There’s nothing different, exciting, unique, quality about this mixed use site – it’s what you expect. Go on – try to name four things this might be. Yeah, you got them all. Not, there’s not anything cultural in there. Just a lump in the heart of a perhaps overlooked interesting city.

As a petition to reject this proposal said, it takes business away from the long established classical shopping street which views gardens and domes, churches and theatres. Yes, like its big sister below, Aberdeen has an old and new town, a one sided street overlooking the distinct skyline – Marischal college being the apogee. Like the capital in the lowlands, Aberdeen’s got several museums, a waterfront and shoreline, all built in a particular colour of stone – this one is light silver.

I felt that Aberdeen was missing something last time I was there. It wasn’t this.

I found several thousand supporters who feel the same, and the matter regularly features in local press.

Why are developers Muse allowed to go ahead, presumably putting profit before the wishes of the people and what the city needs?

There is much anger and backlash about this, and belief that illegal and unfair practices have been involved. The claims over bankrupting the city if it were stopped are manipulation.

Why should Aberdeen have this enforced on the – or Edinburgh the new St James, which equally upsets me with its Ribbon at the heart? (And why can’t I find a campaign on that?)

Muse may think that this creates a monumental lasting testament to themselves, but Muse will just be the shameful name of who spoiled a city. Or tried to.

I support those who say the building should cease and something that is more popular and suitable is put forward instead, which doesn’t obscure these buildings or desecrate the heart of the city.

I’d like Aberdeen to have more independent, special shops and cafes, more arts – not more of the usual chains, something akin tot he atmosphere of Belmont Street – and that will never look like Muse’s vision.

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